It was a long casting, the kind where you realize you’ve only had a coffee and a slice of pizza and now it’s 10 P.M.
It was a long casting, the kind where you realize you’ve only had a coffee and a slice of pizza and now it’s 10 P.M. I had accepted an internship at a casting agency and was deep in the trials of fashion week. It was around this time, in a white-walled, 2,500-square-foot loft in east Chinatown that all my buried suspicions about the evils of the fashion world were confirmed.
Up until this point, my main complaint about fashion had been the beauty of the models. They’re too skinny, they’re too pretty — actually, some of them aren’t even pretty, they’re just skinny. And they’re so tall! No one looks like that. They make me feel like a pygmy.
It was late. It was past the time for congeniality. We were in this loft for about five days straight, for about 12 hours at a time straight. When Da-Xia came in I think it was the climax of all that, the breaking point. My job as intern is to take a photo of the girl who comes in and then send them to the casting director and the designer. The designers were scattered, the casting director told me to have her walk and send her away. This is not uncommon. I’ve had to pretend I hold more weight then I do and stand there as a girl walks for me. It’s usually uncomfortable but at least there are smiles. Da-Xia was not smiling. She knew what was up, especially because another casting director was checking sports scores as she walked, and didn’t bother to lift her head up. I thanked Da-Xia and she sort of let out this wail. It was like she was chocking back tears. The other casting director looked up, “You okay, Da-Xia?” and then put her head back down. I knew why they didn’t see Da-Xia. It was because she was Asian, and they already had the Asian quota filled. “Two Asians!” as the casting director put it.
I felt really badly, especially because this had sort of happened before at another casting. At the other casting, all the Spanish and black girls had to wait while the designers met with the white girls. The time of arrival didn’t matter, skin color did. It was literally that simple. When the right people finally met the girls, they immediately turned them away. I could predict who was going to get to try on the clothes (the next hoop a model must go through) based on the girl’s race. The worst part of all this, believe it or not, was the time it was taking. They knew as well as I did which girls they wanted to use, but they were making the ones they didn’t want wait for nothing — right in the middle of fashion week, when everyone had somewhere else to be.
The show where Da-Xiu was turned away was particularly obvious about the lack of diversity. If you’re a model with blue eyes and blonde hair, you are likely to do well. You won’t be a supermodel per se, but you will hold your own. You make a “nice filler” even if you’re “nothing special.” If you have blonde hair and brown eyes, you’re still in the running. If your eyes are light but your hair is dark, then you lose points. If your skin matches your hair, then more odds are stacked against you.
The hardest thing to be is a black model. Arizona Muse is one of the top models right now. If Arizona walks down a runway, she makes a minimum of $15,000. If Ataui Deng (one of the top black models) walks a runway she makes about $1,500. Ataui is one of the top girls — yet certain white girls who are just starting out make about $3,000.
Where are the ideas of the fashion world coming from? It must be from a demand, and that demand must be coming from the public. Or, is the fashion world feeding the public ideas about beauty? It’s an ugly chicken-or-the-egg scenario, when you get to the root of it.
I spoke to another intern that I work with about this and she agreed. She brought up one of our favorite girls, who’s Brazilian. She has green eyes, sort of light olive skin and black hair. Is the black hair her downfall or is it the olive skin? My fellow intern put it mildly: “She’s so beautiful but she never gets booked for jobs!”
The show we had spent so much time preparing for was disturbing. The runway was shaped like an X and the girls entered from a door in the back. I was to the right of the door, so I could see them when they first appeared, and then had a view of the other girls coming at me from what felt like all directions. The show theme was “Dutch.” The girls were appropriately “Dutch.” They were fair and tall. It was like there was a factory behind that door. Someone would push a button and another 5”9 girl with blonde hair would appear. It was like a Stepford factory. It gave me the creeps.